Background

Questioninfo icon

What is the source of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)?

Answerinfo icon

The virus was developed during

gain-of-function
research and was released by accident.

(89% probability)

Backgroundinfo icon

When a novel coronavirus was first identified in late 2019, the assumption was that, like most epidemics, it was of a zoonotic source. A few studies, including one published in the prestigious Nature magazine, concluded that the virus is not a laboratory construct.

Today, claiming a non-zoonotic origin is widely considered a conspiracy theory, and indeed many such claims are easily refutable without requiring probabilistic inference.

However, the possibility of a lab escape does require serious examination, especially when considering the proximity of the source to a major coronavirus lab and several unusual findings in the genome of SARS-CoV-2. Due to the complexities of weighing an unlikely lab origin against findings that are unlikely for a zoonotic source, a probabilistic analysis is needed.

This analysis is part of the Rootclaim $100,000 challenge, open to anyone who disagrees with our calculated conclusion. Read more.

Hypotheses Consideredinfo icon

Calculated Resultsinfo icon

Calculated Resultsinfo icon

1

89%
Lab escape:

The virus was developed during

gain-of-function
research and was released by accident.

89%

2

4.5%
Bioweapon:

The virus was genetically engineered as a bioweapon and was deliberately released.

4.5%

3

3.2%
Zoonotic collection:

The virus evolved in nature, and was contracted by virus researchers.

3.2%

4

3.2%
Zoonotic:

The virus evolved in nature and was transmitted to humans

zoonotically
.

3.2%

Starting Pointinfo icon

Initial Probabilities

Name
Initial Likelihoods
info icon
Zoonotic
78%
Lab escape
0.7%
Bioweapon
16%
Zoonotic collection
6%

There have been many more viruses introduced to humanity

zoonotically
than through lab failures. Specifically, there were several major pandemics involving novel coronaviruses from natural origin in recent years. Although there have been no known outbreaks involving any novel viruses (coronavirus or otherwise) that came from research, there have been cases of lab leaks that were caught before causing widespread infections, including one lab leak (of a previously known virus) that led to secondary infections. There are also no known cases of a virus being released deliberately in modern history.

Before examining the specific evidence, the initial estimate of the probabilities of Zoonotic : Zoonotic collection : Bioweapon : Lab escape (based on their respective likelihood of incidents per year) is 78% : 6% : 16% : 0.6%.

Name
Initial Likelihoods
info icon
Zoonotic
78%
Lab escape
0.7%
Bioweapon
16%
Zoonotic collection
6%

Evidenceinfo icon

Effectinfo icon

Contagion and mortality

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
91%
Lab escape
-
0.8%
Bioweapon
÷10
1.8%
Zoonotic collection
-
7%

COVID-19 is more contagious than the typical flu, but not as fatal as recent viruses like MERS or SARS. Overall, it is not particularly well-suited as a traditional bioweapon, and COVID-19 broke out during a relatively peaceful time. This indicates that, if it was used as a bioweapon, it would probably not be released as a method of killing people but for a different purpose such as disrupting the world economy.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
91%
Lab escape
-
0.8%
Bioweapon
÷10
1.8%
Zoonotic collection
-
7%

Outbreak location: Wuhan

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
÷20
51%
Lab escape
-
9%
Bioweapon
÷15
1.4%
Zoonotic collection
÷2
38%

The COVID-19 outbreak was first recorded in Wuhan, one of the larger cities in China. Large cities are often the initial breakout sites of zoonotic pandemics, but in that sense Wuhan is no more likely than any other city. It also isn't a particularly desirable target for releasing a bioweapon. 

However, Wuhan stands out for housing the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of only a few labs engaged in

gain-of-function
research.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
÷20
51%
Lab escape
-
9%
Bioweapon
÷15
1.4%
Zoonotic collection
÷2
38%

Virus sources near Wuhan

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
68%
Lab escape
÷2
6%
Bioweapon
÷2
0.9%
Zoonotic collection
÷2
25%

There are no obvious natural sources for COVID-19 in the Wuhan area (Hubei province). The most similar coronavirus is found among bats that don’t live nearby, and scientists have not been able to pinpoint the exact point where SARS-CoV-2 transferred to humans. On the other hand, the initial cluster of cases in the Wuhan wet market is significantly more likely if the virus originated

zoonotically
.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
68%
Lab escape
÷2
6%
Bioweapon
÷2
0.9%
Zoonotic collection
÷2
25%

Chimera

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
÷8
46%
Lab escape
-
32%
Bioweapon
-
4.9%
Zoonotic collection
÷8
17%

SARS-CoV-2 has parts in common with two different viruses, but those individual viruses do not share these similarities with each other, indicating it is a

chimera
. Such chimeras are found both in nature and in labs that conduct
gain-of-function
research. However, this specific
chimera
seems less likely to combine in nature, while the
WIV
is known to have access to both viruses.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
÷8
46%
Lab escape
-
32%
Bioweapon
-
4.9%
Zoonotic collection
÷8
17%

Furin cleavage

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
÷8
13%
Lab escape
-
72%
Bioweapon
-
11%
Zoonotic collection
÷8
4.7%

SARS-CoV-2 has a

furin cleavage site
- an amino acid sequence that causes the protease furin to cut the virus in a way that facilitates its entry into cells. This feature is missing in related coronaviruses, and its placement in the genetic code looks like an insertion rather than a mutation, making it less likely to develop in nature.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
÷8
13%
Lab escape
-
72%
Bioweapon
-
11%
Zoonotic collection
÷8
4.7%

Already well adapted

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
7%
Lab escape
×2
79%
Bioweapon
×2
12%
Zoonotic collection
-
2.6%

It appears that there was one index case of COVID-19, rather than multiple jumps from nature to humans, as was the case in many other pandemics. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 was already well adapted for human infection from the first known cases.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
7%
Lab escape
×2
79%
Bioweapon
×2
12%
Zoonotic collection
-
2.6%

WIV lab procedures

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
3.8%
Lab escape
×2
87%
Bioweapon
-
7%
Zoonotic collection
×2
2.8%

There is some evidence regarding lax security and procedures at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, including other coronaviruses that seem to have escaped the confines of the lab.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
3.8%
Lab escape
×2
87%
Bioweapon
-
7%
Zoonotic collection
×2
2.8%

Infections at WIV

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
×1
3.8%
Lab escape
×1
87%
Bioweapon
×1
7%
Zoonotic collection
×1
2.8%

A U.S. intelligence report showed that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, though the exact illness is not known. However, the

WIV
reported no COVID-19 infections or serological evidence of previous COVID-19 infections among their researchers.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
×1
3.8%
Lab escape
×1
87%
Bioweapon
×1
7%
Zoonotic collection
×1
2.8%

WIV disassociation

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
2%
Lab escape
×2
92%
Bioweapon
-
3.5%
Zoonotic collection
×1.5
2.3%

The

WIV
explicitly stated that they were not working on SARS-CoV-2 prior to the outbreak.

However, on December 30, when Dr. Shi Zheng-Li was informed of the COVID-19 outbreak, changes were made to her bat virus database, making it look like she was trying to dissociate her lab's research from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Then, in January 2020,

WIV
researchers published a paper claiming to have found a previously unknown coronavirus named RaTG13 that was a 96% match with SARS-CoV-2.

But RaTG13 is a new name given to BtCoV/4991, a coronavirus that the

WIV
discovered (along with many other viruses) when they examined a bat cave after six miners contracted a pneumonia-like disease and three died.

This, and other anomalies surrounding

WIV
’s handling of RaTG13, are indicative of attempts to minimize
WIV
involvement.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
2%
Lab escape
×2
92%
Bioweapon
-
3.5%
Zoonotic collection
×1.5
2.3%

Chinese response

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
1.4%
Lab escape
×1.5
94%
Bioweapon
-
2.4%
Zoonotic collection
×1.5
2.3%

The official Chinese response was not transparent, though not particularly surprising even if the virus developed

zoonotically
. They restricted WHO access, destroyed samples, and withheld information, which might be construed as an attempt to hide evidence that could be used to blame China for COVID-19. Additionally, they sent Major General Chen Wei from the Academy of Military Medical Sciences to oversee COVID-19 efforts at the
WIV
, which could potentially indicate the involvement of a bioweapon, but it is probably immaterial.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
1.4%
Lab escape
×1.5
94%
Bioweapon
-
2.4%
Zoonotic collection
×1.5
2.3%

Missing evidence

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
3.2%
Lab escape
÷2.4
89%
Bioweapon
÷1.2
4.5%
Zoonotic collection
÷1.7
3.2%

If the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of a virus developed in a lab - and got out either as the result of an accident or released on purpose as a bioweapon - there are certain pieces of evidence that could have emerged by now, but so far did not. 

 

  1. No whistleblowers have given first hand testimony or exposed evidence of any link between COVID-19 and a lab, even though some doctors and researchers have spoken out about other incidents where they believed that China mishandled information regarding COVID-19.

  2. There were no published records of SARS-CoV-2 in virus databases or research grants.

  3. Wuhan was not immediately cordoned off when the first cases appeared.

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

Zoonotic
-
3.2%
Lab escape
÷2.4
89%
Bioweapon
÷1.2
4.5%
Zoonotic collection
÷1.7
3.2%

Discussioninfo icon

userIcon
user icon
KalleMP
Sep 10, 2022 at 12:10 PM
I wonder if it would make sense to consider the claims that this has been around much earlier in 2019 and perhaps even years earlier from analysis of stored samples from multiple locations. Would the diverse spread add weight to any scenario? Could it have been a naturally circulating more widespread virus, perhaps a SARS-CoV-1.5 that had some Gain-of-function changes made before release/escape? Knowing what we know now about the systematic hyping of the pandemic up and apparent earlier published results implicating vaccine preparations would that not add some more weight to deliberate release as a tool of fear/terrorism? Steve Kirsch gave you guys a nod, thanks for formalising the complex issue instead of reducing it to a single binary meme.
user icon
Joe
Aug 4, 2022 at 9:16 PM
I challenge all these theories. The "virus" and pandemic is an absolute fiction, created by trigger of mass formation justifying a lab-made vaccine to invite/test gullibity and faith in govt/corporation. The pandemic is made up to quantify (not only placebo, but) nocebo effect among (vaccine) "doubters" - a situation where a negative outcome occurs due to a belief that "intervention" (stabs) will cause harm. "Doubters" influenced also by (underground) ‘media storms’ - or simply trusting in the ability of the body to adapt - will feel deeply disturbed by their choice to accept the injection under mass formation coercion. A psychological war to inspire ill health. The odds are good for the "Doubter" who trusts their body always adapts - rather than subcontracting his body health to shelf-bought solutions to "fight" specific pathogens - and whom promptly spots the propaganda influencing their decision to accept a stab.
user avatar
Marian Tkáč
Aug 2, 2022 at 11:27 AM
Na vývoji covidu pracovali a finančne ho podporovali Američania v Číne, keď im to bolo doma zakázané.
user icon
anonymous
Jul 31, 2022 at 5:27 PM
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abp8715 The molecular epidemiology of multiple zoonotic origins of SARS-CoV-2 https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abp8337 And if you would like an abstract, see here: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-62307383.amp
user icon
Doryphore
Mar 26, 2022 at 8:56 PM
Two pieces of evidence revealed makes me think the bioweapon scenario as far more likely than the lab leak (conditional on lab origin). A report by ABC News claimed that intelligence officials for US intelligence tried to warn Israel and its Nato allies A MONTH before the first case of covid was identified. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/intelligence-report-warned-coronavirus-crisis-early-november-sources/story?id=70031273 How did the US intel community know this when according to geneticists this virus had its origin in humans only in November or at the earliest in late October? How did they know of this "cataclysmic event" when there were less than a handful of infected? Why didn't they try to warn the world, not just its allies? If this was just one report we might be justified to think there was some error on the source's part or in the reporting of the sources. But the report was confirmed by Israeli media. Furthermore a recently published study shows that a genetic sequence on sars2 furin site was patented in 2016 by Moderna (a Pentagon contractor). https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fviro.2022.834808/full The authors claim that there is about a one in three trillion chance this is coincidence. Authors also claim it couldn't be due to natural recombination event. Their claim the sequence is unique to sars2 and Moderna has been disputed but it looks still plausible that 1. there is a massive coincidence if there is a natural explanation and so it needs to be explained how it got into sars2.